Fun Architectural Terms To Impress Your Friends

In any industry, you hear terms and phrases that are unique to the work you do. I'm a real estate agent and my husband works in real estate development, so I have exposure to all sorts of unusual words related to homes, buildings and general architecture and construction. Here are a few of my favorites, and some local examples you can inspect next time you're out and about.

Porte Cochere: This is a protective structure outside of a building's main entrance or side entrance. Originally intended to protect a horse and carriage and its passengers from the elements as they disembarked and entered a building, you'll see examples of porte cocheres in private homes (usually in tonier neighborhoods), at hotels and even as part of municipal structures, like Madison's train station.

Here’s a very grand example of a porte cochere. Because Mrs. Dodge couldn’t fathom exiting a car in the rain!

Here’s a very grand example of a porte cochere. Because Mrs. Dodge couldn’t fathom exiting a car in the rain!

Pediment: This is the triangular feature usually located over the front door of a building or a home. On a small scale, it's usually supported by a two or perhaps four pillars and it keeps your Amazon deliveries from getting wet; on a large scale, think of the giant triangle with toga-clad figures carved into the U.S. Supreme Court building.

Peek-a-Boo Window: These are itsy-bitsy windows incorporated into a home or building for visual interest or to bring light into an otherwise dark space. You'll see them just as often in a luxury estate as you do in more modest homes, like a saltbox colonial or bi-level (like this one in Morristown).

Board and Batten: Not to be confused with shiplap, this is a style of siding or interior molding/millwork that has alternating wide boards and narrow strips (hence "batten"). This is especially popular with the advent of "modern farmhouse" style. That said, it looks especially classy in an interior such as a dining room or on an exterior as a way to break up a monolith of shingles or traditional siding.

Dovecote: You'll see these all over New Jersey in new and old homes alike. They were originally incorporated into homes and buildings to provide shelter for domesticated pigeons, and are now purely ornamental and used to add visual interest and a bit of whimsical charm to the rooflines and gables of newer homes. You can see several examples of dovecotes in newer-construction homes on Kings Road and Meadow Court in Madison.

Facedectomy: Perhaps my favorite architectural term of all time, because it's so much fun to say. A facadectomy is the term for when a builder or developer maintains the facade of a (sometimes-historic) structure to retain the character of an area but guts and/or rebuilds the rest of the building. I honestly can't think of any pure examples of this in our immediate area (major props to anyone who can email me an example within 10 miles of Madison/Morristown), but you'll see them frequently in urban areas like New York, Washington and even Hoboken and Newark.

Meg Mullin is a Madison mom, realtor and writer. Feel free to reach out to her for information about buying or selling – she has tons of experience helping clients with both. You can reach her at or 973-845-8375.

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